Balloon‐Based Spill Surveillance System

The council, in conjunction with the Oil Spill Recovery Institute of Cordova and BP’s Crisis Management Unit have been working on the development of a promising new method of providing aerial observations during an oil spill. The surveillance technology uses a helium filled balloon carrying both infrared and conventional cameras tethered to a vessel. The spill balloon can be lofted 500 feet in the air and would supplement traditional aircraft over-flights during a response.

A demonstration of this system was conducted on April 25, 2011 in Valdez at the small boat harbor. An on water demonstration took place later that afternoon in Port Valdez.

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See photos from the April 19 test in Cordova by the Oil Spill Recovery Institute:  OSRI Balloon Test 

A balloon-based oil spill surveillance system was purchased by the Prince William Sound Science Center in 2009 for the purpose of testing its applicability for oil spill surveillance. The original concept for the system was an output of a workshop titled “Hydrocarbon sensors for oil spill prevention and response,” jointly sponsored by the Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) and the Alliance for Coastal Technology.

The final report on this demonstration focuses on the system owned by the Prince William Sound Science Center with discussion about other systems as applicable. Some additional information on alternative systems is provided in the section on selection criteria. The final report also gives suggestions for further research and speaks to the sorts of refinements that will help make the system better for spill response work

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Project Updates:

With the realities of our remote location, limited daylight hours through portions of the year, and goal of supplementing traditional aircraft overflights fully in mind, council staff continue to monitor for developments in aerial surveillance technology.

For example, BP Exploration Alaska continues to have interest in aerial surveillance, and have since worked with the University of Alaska Fairbanks on unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAV’s). UAV’s are promising for spill response work, but as of now, Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding UAV flights by for profit entities are hampering further efforts.  For this reason, the UAF/BP partnership developed.

Fact Sheet:

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